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Biden Administration pushes for climate-related worker protections

Posted at 2:18 PM, Oct 04, 2021

The Biden Administration is pushing for new worker protections after record-setting temperatures killed or sent many workers to the hospital this summer.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration recently announced an increased focus on prioritizing inspections on hot days as they target high-risk industries nationwide such as roofing and landscaping.

“When I first came into the industry many years ago, safety was a bad word,” said Suzie Boyd, vice president of a roofing company located in Colorado. “In our industry you can have a lot of friction with OSHA, and a lot of friction over restrictions because it slows down the work and you’re sometimes not as profitable with the work, but what I’ve seen through the years and what I’ve experienced with our own company is we’ve cut the number of really terrible accidents way, way down and that’s good.”

A recent investigation by NPR and Columbia Journalism Investigations found that because of extreme heat, 384 workers have died over the course of the last decade, and when looking at three-year averages, the number of worker deaths has doubled since 1990.

Furthermore, data shows that those deaths disproportionately affect communities of color. Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show Hispanics make up only 17% of the U.S. workforce but have accounted for a third of all heat fatalities since 2011.

The new push from the government to protect workers includes developing a federal rule that protects workers, something advocates have long sought.

“Labor is our number one issue, so the fact we keep them safe is that much more critical,” said John McMahon, CEO of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado. “You know, the fact that OSHA is doing this, we welcome it as long as it’s practical.”

Since 2015, landscaping services have had the third-highest number of severe injury reports according to OSHA.